I have always been a voracious reader. When I was about ten or eleven, I won a class competition in reading the most pages in a set amount of time, beating my best friend whom I was always in some kind of competition with.
A library bus used to stop in our tiny rural village every two weeks and I would borrow stacks and sit in the cosy nest I had made underneath the stairs and just read and read and read.
I have other memories of laying in bed on a Sunday morning, ignoring my body’s need for food, whilst I kept turning page after page.
My child self was a horse girl through and through and almost all of the books I read from age eight until I was in my late teens were in this genre but over the years my tastes and interests have evolved. However, I have kept reading.
I also got into the habit of buying the books I wanted to read. Which is fine. I don’t mind spending money on books, especially if it will support the author. There is just one small challenge with this though… and that is that the books accumulate over time. And even though I have kept buying more bookshelves over the years I still seem to end up with stacks of books on the floor.
When I moved about three years ago, I notices yet again that I owned mostly books. Followed by a large amount of house plants…! Moving in with another book-lover has meant that we’ve had to compromise or allowing our small living room to turn into a mini library. Not a shabby idea perhaps.
The space constraint has also meant that I have gotten into the habit of using the library again, which is such an amazing service. Libraries makes books widely available and affordable and I count myself very lucky that we have a great one in the small rural town that I currently live in.
Because I love to read, and I love to learn, reading books about weight inclusive approaches, intuitive eating, moving away from dieting, how to heal your relationship with food, body image and any and all other related things, have been a big part of both my personal and professional journey.
So today I want to share with you five of my (many favourites) in this space. I could see this turning into a series because there are several topics within this genre.
Let’s talk about five of my favourite non-diet books that focuses on healing your relationship with food.
(And apologies in advance to anyone who finds these kinds of lists inspiring to*more* book purchases#sorrynotsorry.)
I also want to say that this list is by no means exhaustive and that there are so many new amazing non-diet books coming out all of the time. I will most likely do another round up of these in the future. Another caveat worth mentioning, because this is internet after all is that Mindful Eating have some bits that are not 100% weight inclusive or that tangents on some healthism. So why have I included this one in my list anyway?
Well because I believe in reader discernment and that it is important to not fall into the same black-and-white thinking that keeps us stuck with food. It is also interesting to read work that are written years ago to see how much, or not much at all, thinking and knowledge can evolve over time.
I mention this book here too, because I still believe that there are more good and helpful content it than what is problematic. You may not agree with me on this, and I am ok with that too.
I have listed them in no particular order. If one suggestion calls more to you than another, trust that. Happy reading x
– Intuitive Eating – A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch. 4th Ed. Published in 2020
This seminal work is, I would think one of the most popular books of entry point when someone is contemplating moving from diets but unsure of where to go next.
The first principle of Intuitive Eating is reject Diet Culture, so there is no qualms about what needs to happen first before anything else can happen.
I first read Intuitive Eating in 2014, then the 3rd Ed, and what I can remember was a feeling of relief as well as a recognition that here was something that I had been feeling for a long time but had not been able to name, until then.
Evelyn and Elyse wrote their initial version back in 1995, when many of the current day advocates were barely born(!). They have done some heavy editing since that early version to remove any and all content that was not entirely weight inclusive and I think this clearly demonstrates how things evolve and the work necessary to keep editing and updating work, as one’s own personal learning and feedback grows.
When I read this book back in 2014 it opened up to a new direction for me professionally and it confirmed a large part of the personal recovery path that I was already on, however I didn’t know any other nutrition professionals that were familiar with this kind of approach. It felt lonely. Thankfully things have changes and the number of weight inclusive, non-diet professionals are growing, even here in Ireland.
What I like about the Intuitive Eating book and this approach is that it is organised in 10 principles. That gives a good framework, as well as some helpful structure to the process of working through it.
That said, you can read through this book from cover to cover but doing the actual work takes time. Weeks, months and even years. And it is not necessarily a linear process either. But, starting by reading the book is indeed a good place to start. There are over 400 published studies to date that shows up on PubMed if you put intuitive eating into the search bar so it is safe to say that it is becoming increasingly more validates by the research field in the almost 30 years since the original book’s inception.
– Body of Truth by Harriet Brown. Published 2015
As far as I can remember this book was recommended to me from the professional non-diet community. The tagline to this book is “How Science, History and Culture drive our Obsession with Weight and What We Can Do About It.”
Harriet shares her own journey of yo-yo dieting and healing from weight obsession to a place of body acceptance. Her background is in journalism and her writing is really accessible. The book weaves personal stories, both her own and others’, with exploration of the science around weight and health.
If you are someone who really enjoys this type of writing and story telling, rather than having it all lined the facts lined up with bullet points and advice, then this book is for you.
It is not so much about sharing ideas of what you can do instead of dieting but rather taking you on a journey of exploration of why you feel compelled or pulled to do it, and reflections about how things might be different if you don’t.
Harriet Brown invites us to “ Think beyond the messages we are getting a thousand times a day. To question the conventional wisdom. You may wind up making the same exact choices in your life as you do now, but at the very least you’ll be making those choices more consciously. Or you may wind up with an entirely different point of view, one that could help set you free from the painful and punishing rules we’ve been living by for so long.”
– A Shadow of A Diet by Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel. Published 2014, 2nd Ed.
This book is written for professionals who work with clients who are struggling with binge eating and emotional eating. If you are someone who fits this description, I cannot recommend this book enough! It is detailed, written from a weight inclusive, non-diet lens and contains both different concepts such as attuned eating as well as a host of case studies to illustrate the dynamics which are present when it comes to binge eating and emotional eating.
Again, this was a book that was recommended to me through my professional network and it has been an incredibly valuable learning resource since I read it initially in 2017.
Judith Matz is a wealth of knowledge and has been working in the field of eating disorders since the mid 1980s. What makes this book so incredible, in my eyes, is that it does a beautiful job of explaining all the challenges, as well as all the nuances when working with healing binge eating and emotional eating from a truly weight inclusive, non-diet approach. Something that still feels rare when a lot of people who are struggling with this both actively seek out diets and therapists / nutrition professionals / health care professionals either suggests that they should lose weight or believe that losing weight will result in better body image and greater self-esteem, not recognising that dieting doesn’t work for the majority of people long-term or that dieting and restriction is a big part of what is driving the binge eating behaviour…!
If you are not someone who works with clients on their relationship with food, but rather looking at a resource so support your own relationship with food, then Judith’s other book The Diet Survivor’s Handbook might be a better fit.
– Reclaiming Body Trust – A Path To Healing and Liberation by Hilary Kinavey & Dana Sturtevant. Published 2022.
This is one of the more recent books that I have added to my collection. Having been a big fan of Hilary and Dana’s work for years, buying this book was a must when it came out last year was a must.
Their work was some of the first place where I came across the intersection of the intersection of eating issues with wider systems of oppression such as racism, poverty, gender non conformity and weigh discrimination. The have been talking about these topics and intersections for a long time and I for one, am immensely grateful that they have put their knowledge and learning in a book.
This book is about both our personal experience and healing of disordered eating, as well as exploring and educating on the wider systems and influences at play. Hilary and Dana shows us all the external influences and injustices that impacts our relationship with food, eating and our bodies. Many factors that are outside our individual control. However they are also giving us tools, practices and questions to reflect on moving forward so that we can reclaim our sovereignty but more than that, hope and insights to how we can collectively work towards dismantling the oppressive social structures and work towards body liberation for ALL bodies.
It is a powerful read, though it can be challenging too, if you are new to non-diet approaches. There are as much to learn as there is to unlearn here.
– Mindful Eating – A Guide to Rediscover A Healthy and Joyful Relationship With Food by Jan Chozen Bays, Published 2017. Revised edition.
There is so much I love about this book. Jan Chozen Bays is an MD who is also a Buddhist practitioner and this book is rooted in mindfulness meditation and the spirit of mindfulness. The part I particularly love is her deep dive into what she calls the Nine Hungers. In this part of the book she explores the many facets of hunger, both physical and the more emotional types of hunger like heart hunger. Recognising hungers that can be satisfied with foods, as well as hungers that we may try and rectify with food but that are also about yearnings for deeper emotional and spiritual needs, is powerful work.
For me this is the more profound part of Mindful Eating, which is more that just eating slowly and chewing diligently. She does talk about these elements too, towards the end of the book and it is here, where some of the practices feels a little more “diet-y” to me, and where you might have proceed with caution depending where you currently find yourself on your journey with a more peaceful relationship with food, eating and your body.
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I hope that this list will prove helpful on your journey of learning, unlearning, repairing and healing. This is only a small selection of some of my favourite non-diet books. There are new ones being published all the time, which is truly amazing. Though I am guessing for every non-diet, weight inclusive book on creating a better relationship with food there are probably ten others who will promise the world and his mother through the “weight loss diet that *will* work”. Only none of them really do, long-term.
When someone comes to me to work on their relationship with food, and in this case binge eating and emotional eating I often find myself starting by showing them a visual of the Diet – Restrict – Binge Cycle.
I do this for two reasons.
To show my client that they, nor their body is broken
To show my client that the binge or emotional eating is s symptom, and not the root cause of what’s typically going on.
When you find yourself in a binge episode, it feels so out of control. It is so uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. It really *feels* like the food and the lack of control is the problem that we have to fix.
And if you’re gaining weight as a result of the binge or emotional eating then you might panic even more and this thing with food and eating *really* have to get under control. I know for sure that this is how I felt, when I was smack bang in the middle of it.
Years later, I learned about the Diet – Restrict- Binge Cycle and I felt such a relief. No wonder I had spent years going around this cycle. Any and all of the diets that I tried was never going to work to get my binge eating under control.
Why? Because they all implied some kind of restrictive eating. It was either restricting calories or sugar or gluten or fat or some other kind of food group. The restriction kept fuelling my binge eating.
And I had no idea (at the time) that these two were connected and that it in order to stop bingeing I would have to stop restricting.
How does restriction drive binge eating?
The cycle will always start from some kind of restriction. It might be a diet, a need to cut out some specific foods for medical reasons or it might be as a result of not having enough food available for awhile due to lack of financial means. It doesn’t really matter why you are restricting as the body will experience the lack of food the same, as a state of famine.
(Step 1 – Restriction) For this example let us imagine that you are starting a new diet. One that is going to support your “health”. (I have health in quotation marks here because diets are rarely about actual health but about thinness.)
(Step 2 – Feeling hungry / starvation)The diet is going well… until you find yourself hungry, and perhaps also tired and stressed out. It is hard to have the bandwidth to deal with life on an empty stomach and undernourished brain.
(Step 3 – Breaking the Diet ) Maybe someone has brought in a cake or donuts to work and even though you say no to when offered, you still find yourself eating a large slice in secret afterwards.
Once you’ve stepped outside the confines of the diet a few things tend to happen:
You find yourself thinking “Well I have already blown my diet so I might as well keep going now”. And then proceed to binge on all or the foods you don’t normally give yourself permission to eat. Or you might polish off the rest of the cake / packet of biscuits, even though you don’t really feel like eating them but you want them gone now, so that they won’t be there tempting you in the future.
(Step 4 – Shame / Guilt / Frustration / Anger) Another thing that can happen is that the shame and guilt over eating in secret and eating more than / something that wasn’t on your diet plan sends you into a spiral and because food is the main coping tool you have, you find yourself planning a binge later. Or maybe you just keep eating because why the H*ll not?!
This backlash binge eating often comes from hurt, pain and wanting to punishing ourselves for the initial “transgression”. And the initial “transgression” happens as a result of undereating, leading to feeling overly hungry and food being present.
It is natural to eat when we are physically hungry! And when we are overly hungry, it is even harder to make executive function decisions, so grabbing what is available makes total sense.
(Step 5 – Fear of weight gain / desire to get back in control) This is where you’ll find yourself in the aftermath of the binge episode. Often sitting a pool of shame, self-blame and self-loathing, it makes sense to reach back out for another diet or to “get back on the diet-wagon” again. Something that will simply put you back in the place of restriction, and so the cycle continues.
This is why we have to address the restriction in order to heal the binge eating.
This cycle can happen is a day or it can happen after days or weeks or even months of restricting. If the restriction has been going on for weeks or months, then it is not unlikely that the binge eating will happen over several days or weeks too.
With the Diet – Deprivation – Binge Cycle we are trying to fight physiology, and that is not supposed to work. If you are finding yourself binge eating after restricting food (or food groups) for a while, there is nothing wrong with you. In fact I would argue that your body is working quiet well.
Our bodies don’t want to be in a state of famine, that is not helpful to survival so when food becomes available we will naturally eat more than we need, because we are trying to make up for the restriction and as well as that we might also eat more because who knows when food will become available again??
It is important that this is often happen subconsciously. This is your body doing its best to keep you alive.
How do you step out of the Diet – Deprivation – Binge Cycle?
In my 3 part mini course I will take you through three practices that can help you get out of this diet – restrict binge cycle. You will get access to the course when you join my weekly newsletter (which is full of supportive things, I promise!)
A few days ago I went though my wardrobe to sort through clothes that no longer fits the body I have now, and to make sure that what I do have is clothing that works for me right now.
One of the things that are often helpful when we are doing body image work is to do something tangible like going through our wardrobes. Of course there is lots to unpack when it comes to body image, and often a lot of that work is around Diet Culture, The Westernised Beauty Standards and concepts such as self objectification which is all tied into the fear of weight gain.
In Diet Culture it is so common to use smaller clothing as “motivation”. Whether it is keeping a pair of old jeans that we have outgrown as the motivation stick, or it is wearing clothes that now feels too tight as an incentive to try and “eat less”.
My question to you is, how well is this type of “motivation” working for you? I can see where the intentions are coming from but why do we subject ourselves to it?
Why do we think we don’t deserve to be comfortable in the body we have right now?
When I have clothes that are too tight, that sensation of being uncomfortable takes up a tremendous amount of brain space. Because my pants are cutting into my waist this is all I can think of. It contributes to increased negative self-talk and self-loathing. It doesn’t make me feel better about myself, it just makes me feel miserable.
There is this pervasive myth that if we are being hard on ourselves, not letting ourselves “off the hook” we will somehow stop caring for ourselves. But the opposite is the truth. And before you say it… remember restriction drives binge eating…
Bodies are living, breathing beings. They are forever changing. They are not meant to stay the same. Diet Culture says life will be better and we are more worthy when we’re thin (and yes due to weight stigma there is truth some truth to this). Beauty Culture says youth is the most important thing and that we should do everything to defy the laws of nature and ageing.
What we have to remember is that both Diet Culture and Beauty Culture is rooted in not only societal ideals and norms but both are also vast multibillion industries. Profiting of our personal insecurities are BIG business.
We might not always like the body we have, or what it looks like, and it is important to question where this belief comes from that, bearing in mind the number of companies that directly profits from it.
So, what would it be like to dress for the body you have right now?
If you could open your wardrobe and know that all the clothes there fitted you well, felt comfortable on your body and made you feel good, what would that be like?
Perhaps it would be possible to invest in some well-fitting underwear so it is not something that would rub or squeeze all day. I’m not suggesting that you need to dump all of your clothes that don’t fit right now, but perhaps you might want to store those ones out of sight for a while.
You don’t necessarily need to go out and shop for a whole new wardrobe, but would it be possible to have 2-3 work outfits that are comfortable and make you feel good right now?
My body has changed in different ways throughout my 20s and 30s. It has been bigger, and it has been smaller, and it has also stayed the same for a relatively long time. What I found this time, when outgrowing some clothes is that it felt some much less shameful and triggering than it would have done in the past. Instead of picking myself and my body apart and feeling pulled towards restrictive behaviours it felt so much more accepting and caring.
Yes my body has changed over the past few years, but so what?! Life is short, I want to care for it the best way I can, and right now that involves dressing it in a way that is comfortable and makes me feel good. Not trying to squeeze into the past and hating myself whilst doing so.
There are many factors that play into body image dissatisfaction. The solution that we are being sold is that we will feel better when we “fix” our bodies, however since our bodies are ever changing this will always be a precarious option.
We don’t need to fix our bodies, what we need to do is to “fix” how we think about them.
Your body is always inherently worthy. And it is deserving of your kindness and care, which may also include dressing in ways that is comfortable for the body you have right now.
For this blog post I wanted to write a more practical type of post about a topic, being stuck in food ruts, that I often see people struggle with in my clinical practice and it is definitely not something I am immune to struggle with myself.
Maybe it is a completely human thing, to get stuck in ruts. With what we are eating, and how we are thinking and even behaving? Often we say thing like “You can’t teach an old dog new trix” and “He/she is so set in their ways, they’ll never change”. However this is actually not true. It’s a myth that we keep perpetuating by strengthening those neuropathways, telling ourselves that it is true…
Have you ever heard of the term Neuroplasticity?
The definition of neuroplasticity is: the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.
We also create change through intention. What I mean by that is that we need, using awareness, to work on intentionally creating new thought patterns, new behaviours which we want to engage in and of course new ways with food, if we want to get out of those ruts and make some new neuronal pathways.
So there, it definitely is possible to get un-stuck, but it may require a little intentionallity.
I think that because eating is a necessity, and when our attention and energy is focused elsewhere, the most natural thing is to default to our ingrained habits. Eating something, anything, is better than going hungry and of the irritability, mind fog and lack of energy that goes with that. Never anything wrong with honouring our hunger.
Don’t forget that we live in a culture and society where it completely possible to take care of your physical hunger needs without ever putting a foot in your own kitchen (or anybody else’s for that matter). So if this is how you are feeding yourself at times, no need to feel shameful about that. But maybe you’d like to change some of it as it could give you more choice and a sense of empowerment.
Here are my five tips on how to get out of food ruts. Whether it is wanting to cook more food in general, eating a wider variety of foods or just starting to think about learning some new recipes, I hope you find something useful from this list that will widen your lens a little and spark some new ideas.
Focus on colour
If you’ve been following my work for some time, you may have noticed that I am drawn to creating meals that are colourful. Eat a Rainbow, has to be one of the easiest nutritional advice to adhere to. By trying to incorporate something from each colour of the rainbow every day, you are naturally getting a more varied intake of fruits and vegetables. If you can vary the types of foods from each colour category, even better! Maybe you find some orange peppers and a yellow courgette to pair with some green spinach. Have fun trying out some different colours of your usual favourites. Variety and diversity seems to have many health benefits.
Have a think about Meal Planning
Sometimes I see people within Intuitive Eating groups shun the idea of meal planning and meal prepping. I do understand where they are coming from, since such a strong premise of eating intuitively is to “eat when you are hungry as well as what you are truly hungry for”. But life is rarely that black and white (plus that definitive way of thinking belongs to diet mentality anyway. Flexibility is the name of the game here!)
Just note that you making a plan for what you’d like to eat is not the same as slavishly following meal plan set by someone else. It can be incredibly useful to have some kind of structure, to take the stress out of making meals, especially if you are already ravenous when you start cooking…
One thing I encourage my clients to look at is to look at how their schedule for the week ahead looks like. Which days to you have time to cook something from scratch? Which days may you be eating out? Which days would you prefer to just heat some leftovers or put together a few bits and pieces for a simple meal? If you start here you may take some of the stress out of feeding yourself. It is totally cool to re heat some soup for dinner or a quick lunch, as well as having a smoothie, sandwich or salad (I actually have porridge in the evening too at times… Shhs, don’t tell anyone…) especially if you’ve eaten a larger meal during the day.
Ok, so I am not talking about those typical food prep pictures you see on social media where there are seven same type of meals in containers… And I’ve always wondered what that chicken, broccoli and sweet potato looks like on day seven… Never mind what it would smell like!
Trying something new is an easy way of getting out of ruts. And luckily the variety of fresh fruits and veg that are available these days in our everyday supermarkets are so much better than what it used to be. So next time you are shopping and see a food you haven’t tried before, be brave and have a go!
Learn a new recipe once a week / month
This is something I did a few years ago. Where I intentionally picked up one of my cookbooks, and I have added many more to my collection since, to pick a recipe that I wanted to try out. Maybe it was a new combination of foods to try, or a recipe that offered a new skill. Or maybe a recipe to suit a new ingredient.
Even if you only own one cook book or if you rather use Google, this is a really good way to add new meal favourites to your weekly repertoire. Cooking is a skill that takes practice to master. Not all of us are gifted with it intuitively or got given the skills passed on from our parents when growing up. I also get that it is challenging if you actually have no interest in cooking meals from scratch.
Sometimes though what it takes is a change in attitude to the whole thing. That cooking for ourselves and spending time in the kitchen is a form of self care. You deserve to eat foods that are tasty and nourishing. I have seen these kinds of mindset shifts take place in clients and it has been revolutionary! Your kitchen can be your sanctuary. (Perhaps that’s a topic for another blog post?)
This blog post will contain some words from my heart, as well as lots of swirling thoughts captured in print. Whilst I have been working on putting together a post about how our experiences with food, eating and our bodies as it relates to our (hi)stories, childhood and so on influences our relationship with same today, I found that for some reason it seemed like a challenge to put it all into words. I am still not sure why, as I have previously shared my own story on this topic here.
Anyway, I decided to pause it and write a blog post about many of the thoughts that have been swirling around my mind for what now seems like ages. Maybe I just need to get some of these words out there, in order to peel back and to keep writing about all the things that I plan to write about this year. So yeah, please see this one as an overarching intention of what may be yet to come.
Life is a journey of unexpected twists and turns. And we are all constantly growing and learning…
Last week I had the privilege to get up and speak about the line of my own work within the field of Nutritional Therapy, even though I was excited the opportunity on one hand, I was pretty nervous about it too. Why? Well apart from the ever present inner critic and a touch of imposter syndrome I was a little apprehensive about my choice of topic too.
It is rare that we speak about the prevalence of Eating Disorders and disordered eating, as well as the harm restriction and dieting can do. Yet I feel strongly that within a profession where food is used as the healing modality, it is more important than for anyone else that we understand the dynamics around eating behaviour.
I apologies in advance if this blog ends up being somewhat scattered and incoherent (as I won’t do a lot of editing before posting) as I am trying to let some of the many threads that have been swirling around come together and weave an new picture.
My journey into Nutritional Therapy and becoming a nutritional professional has been windy and is ever unfolding. My professional path has become part of my personal path, yet when I was 20 this type of work was NOT my intention for my professional path. My personal struggle with food and eating eventually lead me to this profession when I was looking for other things to earn a living from, rather than shovelling horse shit for the rest of my working life…
I will be honest and admit that I wholeheartedly believe in the power of food as medicine with nutritional supplements and herbs to heal, repair and restore. It would be my personal preference to use natural medicine as much as possible, yet I feel we are lucky to have the opportunity of drugs as well as lifesaving surgery if this is what is needed.
Over the weekend just passed my other colleagues who also presented on the day showed us some incredible case studies of healing happening with the use of natural medicines, often in cases where the orthodox medicine had written off a restoration of health as impossible.
However in the area of health and healing nothing is ever black or white… It’s never one thing or the other, but usually more like an interconnected web of many layers that interplay.
Over the past two years or so my own work as has changed because I have learned new things and been exposed to new teachings and approaches. Much because of this I really want to take a stand this year and get cleared in my own message and with my own voice.
This is something I am continuously working on, and I definitely feel like I haven’t gotten it right, yet. Consider it a work in process. Hence these words from my heart are simply a part of this unfolding process.
In the presentation that I shared, one of my first slides where the question “Can we truly promote healthy eating without having a healthy relationship with food and eating?”
Personally I don’t think so. Using nutrition as a healing modality may require some dietary changes, often to improve quality, variety and nutrient density. That is all fine. Especially when it is done together with a qualified practitioner who works with you, and your body. The issues arise when people start to self-restrict without any particular reasons other than following the latest nutrition fads and trends. It becomes an issue when we follow strict external rules, regardless if it may be points or calorie / macro counting without honouring our own body’s specific cues and needs.
Because, we already have what we need. Our own inner wisdom. Yet if you look around the messages you see, literally everywhere, is that somehow our bodies are not trustworthy. (I often wonder how we got to this place of distrust in ourselves, as somehow we’ve evolved and survived as a species up until quiet recently without questioning it much… But that’s maybe a question for another post.)
Another issue is when the intentional pursuit of weight loss is used as a panacea to create health. Controlling the amount of food as well as the type of food, is used as a way to try to control body size, health and even life.
About two years ago I came across the Health At Every Size ™ movement. It has changed everything for me and learning to navigate this new information as well as this new lens to look through is much of what this year is all about for me. How do I integrate this info with what I know about nutritional medicine?
Health At Every Size or HAES for short, is a movement that values ALL BODIES, and that all bodies are worthy of treatment with respect and care.
It is also a paradigm which looks at health beyond nutrition and even beyond health behaviours. Through HAES we get to look at health through the lens of social justice. This is what changes everything.
Though I never prescribed any crazy diets to help people lose weight, nor was I particularly interested in weighing them, (I don’t weigh myself for God’s sake!), I were part of some well-intentioned weight loss programmes early on in my career. My first round of business cards even had the words “Lose weight without dieting” on them. (I since cut whatever few were left up in pieces. )This was before I knew that any intention of actively pursuing measures to alter our body size IS dieting.
Dieting is one of the most prevalent pre cursors to develop eating disorders. And if you don’t go on to develop a full blown eating disorder, you most certainly end up with disordered eating behaviours.
HAES not only shines a light on the detriments of weight loss pursuits and dieting, it also brings to light the social justice side of things, when it comes to health and how often the individual is blamed on failure to keep their body under control, if it does not conform to society’s norms, rather than looking at the larger picture of other Determinants of Health and inequalities in our society that contribute to our overall health and wellbeing.
From this journey of venturing into learning more about HAES, I am also learning more about weight stigma and fatphobia. Both which play such a big part in why intentional weight loss pursuits are a form of oppression. And of course, denying yourself to eat when you are physically hungry just because you have reached your limits on points that day is a personal attack on yourself. A mini trauma, which is sending a message to your body that it is not worthy of one of the most fundamental things for life – food.
When we zoom out and look at the other well-meaning nutritional interventions for disease preventions, very few actually talk about the inequalities. That not all people have access to good quality foods, not the skills or means to buy them in order to create nutritious meals for themselves and their family.
We are not necessarily thinking about the people who are fearful for taking a walk in their neighbourhood, when we ourselves are feeling guilty for missing a gym session… Yet the message portrayed when it comes to health pursuits is often that of personal responsibility, and those who are not doing things necessary of this pursuit are often seen as lazy.
Why is that?
Is it because the idea of thinness = health is so entrenched in our culture?
Yet it is simply not true. Which is one of the messages of HAES.
Our worth as a human being is not based on how we look or what we eat, surely? I think we can do better than that.
The other is the take home message that our inherent worthiness in not tied to our health or body size. I don’t think I have ever looked at someone and thought that it was. It is not how I was raised. Yet when you become aware of this insidious cultural insinuation, you can’t close your eyes to the message that it is so, which is everywhere. Why else would dieting be promoted all over the place? Oh yeah, aside from the fact that it DOES sell and is a multi billion dollar industry of course…
I also can’t see why prescribing weigh loss as a cure all is so prevalent? Aside from the fact that it doesn’t work, so many people are nutrient deficient and prescribing restriction seems counter intuitive to me. It is already hard to get what we need from our diets, so why would be want to restrict them further? What about prescribing diversity (if this is within the individual’s means) together with some curiosity and an explanation of the illusion of finding the “right diet” and the importance of listening to you own body’s response to the food you eat?
So really, what is my intention with this lengthy rant? Well maybe it is to state that no I don’t think we can promote ‘healthy eating’ without at the same time promote a healthy relationship to food, eating and body (I feel another deep dive will come on this topic in the future too) , it is also highlight the inequalities in our society and the injustice that is done when we hand out all the blame on individuals for “not taking care of themselves better”. That is just unkind and unfair.
Long story short; we can’t really get to the root of healing individual’s eating struggles without at the same time working on understanding the root cause of what’s driving this struggle, which is the Diet Culture that we all live in.
So the work, which is what I have now woken up to and to the visionaries and frontline warriors to whom I have the immense privilege to learn from, is to simultaneously dismantle Diet Culture.
And finally… (almost 2000 words later) what my ultimate message from this lengthy blog post is: It is to declare that I am dropping out of this Diet Culture. I don’t want to participate nor do I want to be contributing to this shame fuelled oppressive system.
To quote Maya Angelou, “When you know better, do better”.
So this is what I am trying to do now. When I do now know better.
This is not an easy blog post to write. In fact, even though I have a clear idea of what I want to write here, it doesn’t come all that easy. Maybe because I know that this is a difficult topic to write and talk about. It is also both counter cultural AND will most likely upset some (many?) people.
I have decided that this year, I am going to be braver and speak and write about what I stand for and what is aligned to my values, as well as my professional mission. After some deep dives into what is driving our eating behaviours, what the obstacles to having a healthy relationship with food, eating and body are and how we cannot pursue whole self health without also healing our relationship with the same, I am ready to share my thoughts, learnings, observations and resources.
This year, my intentions are to truly let this space evolve into a place where you can come and find some sanity from diet culture and hopefully inspiration on your own journey towards food freedom and body liberation.
Over the past 15 months or so I have spent a lot of time with colleagues who are doing very courageous front line work and advocacy for the right to health, respect and care of people of all shapes and sizes. It has opened my eyes in ways where it is now impossible to turn the other way… Hence why this post is only the first of many. Brace yourself!
My TRUTH is tugging at me to invite you to some exploration around how we see our own bodies, how we regard (or disregard) them. How we speak ABOUT our bodies and how we speak TO them. In order to heal our relationship with food and eating we also need to examine and heal our relationship WITH our bodies.
Beyond how we speak, think and perhaps judge our own bodies we also need to wake up to how we and society at large speak, think and judge other people’s bodies. But let’s park that conversation for now. I will definitely return to the topic of weight stigma and weight bias in the future, as the impact both have on not just emotional health but even physical health are new revelations to me, perhaps most likely so because of my own thin privilege.
Why is it important that we remove weight loss as the main focus when it comes to the desire for lifestyle changes and why can’t we heal our relationship with food and eating if we don’t let this go?
I have experienced my own fair share of body dysmorphia / distorted body image.
Looking back at my relationship with food and eating, I could see that much of my disordered eating stemmed from a trigger comment of the size of my body (which in fairness at the time was still well within what society is considering “normal” & “healthy”). And so it begins for many others, with disordered eating or eating disorders.
In the 7 Systems of Health we speak of the ROOT as the system of Safety, Survival and Trust.
How can we anchor ourselves in these, if we are constantly at war with our own body?
Not trusting that it is telling us what it needs, in form of food, rest, play and connection.
How can we feel safe if we are trying to force our bodies into some societal norms of what bodies “should look like”? Always trying to fix them and make them conform, so that we are acceptable and fit in. The desire and external pressure to do so is what is known as Diet Culture. It is a very insidious way of being bombarded from all angels that we are not good enough as we are.
Somehow our bodies are not trustworthy. They are unruly and need to be controlled, often at all costs. Regardless of what body size our bodies actually are, this message all too often becomes internalised and we decide to do something about it. I.e. diet.
Diets, by design are restrictive.
Often it is about cutting calories, or portion sizes. Or food groups. With the intention of trying to control the size of our body. Sometimes it is even disguised as something we do in the name of health. But as long as you are following a plan, set by someone else that has a bunch of food rules and is aimed at helping you lose weight it is a diet.
Here’s the thing; How can we move beyond surviving into thriving if we are not honouring our physical needs in the first place?
Is it really possible to establish a sense of belonging, if we are always trying to make ourselves and our bodies into something they are not? Yet this is much of the cultural messages we are constantly bombarded with…
Then there’s the real desire to lose weight. I get it. It is ok to want it. We all live in this Diet Culture.
We definitely need to acknowledge the internal voices of fat shaming we have going on, as well as what it is like for someone to live in a body where society feels like it has some right to judge and criticise based on a particular body size. Especially if this have never been our own lived experience.
We need to be careful with the words we use, because as we know words hold tremendous power…
Shame never helps or heals. Kindness does.
So perhaps if we want to begin with some healing at the ROOT, let the invitation be; to note how we speak, see and value bodies, our own as well as others.
To hold a safe compassionate space where ALL bodies are welcome to heal, worthy of care and to be blessed with health.
To let go of the oppression perpetuated by Diet Culture through actively pursuing weight loss.
When it is about health and not about weight, all of our behaviour changes hold merit and value, whereas when weight loss is the main focus and goal, it becomes all too easy to let go of these if the number on the scales doesn’t budge, or worse if it goes up!
So isn’t it better to pursue healthy behaviours rather than trying to shame yourself into change?
You are a worthy human being just as you are.
(Photos from Unsplash.com)
Do you long to let go of obsession around food, eating and weight? Would you like to feel freedom and peace around meals and beyond, but need some help and support to get there?
It would be an honour to walk with you on this path. Please email me HERE to set up a free 30 min consultation to explore how this may be possible for you too.